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It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll, But We Like It

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A look back at the history of the unofficial alumni band

by Chris Knopf '72

It was around October of 1969. I was heading back to my freshman room in Morgan basement, where the acoustics in the hallways were agreeably resonant. I heard Suite: Judy Blue Eyes coming from somewhere, and I thought, What a great song.

As I got closer, the song would stop and start, taking up again often mid-stanza. I followed the sound and discovered it wasn’t Crosby, Stills & Nash but rather Willemin, Rounds and Newell. I’d never heard anyone sing like that, performing for no one but themselves.

That was the beginning.

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We spent the greater part of our freshman year singing anything that popped into our minds or leapt to the guitars. Beatles, Beach Boys, The Band, Bee Gees, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, barbershop, do-wop, Motown, Rolling Stones, Monkees, no limits.

A steady presence on those occasions was Al Hershner ’73, the first Dickinson student I ever talked to, who happened to be the drummer in a high school rock band. (Jamie Rounds ’73, Dave Newell ’73 and I had also played rock in high school.) It dawned on us that we should dig up some gear and try to put together a credible group.

The result was a concert we performed in the Social Hall in May of 1970. We practiced a list of songs, made up posters and I borrowed some needed equipment from an old friend and former bandmate.

We brought the house down and ended up booking several gigs at the frat houses for the following fall semester. Bob Willemin ’73, who had just started learning guitar, bought a bass, built his own speaker cabinet and taught himself over the summer to fill that role.

We were pretty thoroughly booked from then on, playing all around the upper and lower quads, occasionally outdoors, sometimes for nearby institutions like Dickinson Law School and the Army War College, some club dates and a couple of trips to North Carolina (another story too long for here). The repertoire was basically anything you could dance to, though given we had four (eventually six) singers, harmonies were usually in the picture. A heavy influence was the Woodstock movie, from which we lifted Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

Our song list kept expanding, incorporating recent hits and even a few original tunes. During our last year we rented a farmhouse as a practice and recording space, playing out at least once a weekend. By then, Stevie K had transferred to Tufts and we were back in our original configuration.

As tends to happen with rock bands, everything fell apart in the spring of ’73. Bob, Dave and I teamed up with Pete Taft ’73 to play out a few remaining gigs before the college forced upon us the unhappy ritual of graduation.

Not long after, though, we were invited back to play a reunion, with Stevie K back in and Pete as a second drummer. Stevie passed away in 2005, and Jamie eight years later, but for over 50 years, playing for Dickinson partiers has become a steady gig, now complemented by that kid from Dartmouth, the Docatola of Rock ’n’ Rolla, Dr. Peter King, on keyboard and guitar.

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Where did the name Bradley come from? No one knows. That story’s been lost in the mists of time.

What’s it been like? I’ll quote the inimitable Willie Nelson: “The life I love is playing music with my friends.”

In addition to being a founding member of Bradley, Chris Knopf ’73 is an acclaimed author. He has published 18 mystery/thriller novels and numerous essays and short stories.

Read more from the summer 2023 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published August 21, 2023